Whenever I go on a long trip, like to Japan, for instance, I like to imagine myself as Richard Francis Burton, the great British explorer, spy, a man who can speak 29 languages, translator, poet, orientalist, soldier, and some say a sex fiend. More than imaging myself, I decided to study Japanese as my first language after English, which I am still grappling with. Even though I was born in America, and have been an American for the last 59 years, I am still overwhelmed with the difference between the words “has” and “have.” Nevertheless I made a decision to study Japanese and then perhaps go into French language studies. I purchased a Japanese language application for my computer and within ten minutes became terribly bored with it.
With respect to the Japanese language, I discovered when I am by myself, I can easily feed myself in a country, where English is another language. Luckily I found a sushi place near where I’m staying in Meguro that when you sit down, a piece of sushi comes to your seat on a conveyor belt. All you have to do is pick it off from the belt, and eat it. Once you are finished, they (not you) count the dishes, which are priced differently and they can tell by the design of the plate, what the price is. As a practice, I always give them the biggest currency bill as possible. This way, I don’t have to look for coins in my pocket, nor look embarrassed trying to find the exact amount for the bill. The thing is, I want to look like I fit in Japanese society as effortlessly as Richard Burton did when he traveled in the Middle East.
Before I came to Japan, my only knowledge of this country was through the film “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, ” which by the way, I don’t recommend as an introduction to Japanese culture. On the other hand, like other eminent orientalists from the past, I imagine myself as a distinguished explorer, especially when I go shopping in Shinjuku for used vinyl or CDs. What I mostly find is the complete works of Terry Hall, who was (and is) the lead singer for The Specials. Since the 1980s, he has been around in various band line-up’s making intriguing music. A person who I feel was in the right place and at the right time.
Terry Hall always reminded me of the actor Patrick McGoohan, who starred in the TV shows “Danger Man” (aka “Secret Agent Man” in the U.S.) and the classic “The Prisoner.” Both artists I felt came from a very British perspective on life in the U.K. and sometimes beyond, but with a British sensibility. And like McGoohan’s character in “The Prisoner” I often felt like I’m a prisoner here on Japan. Basically this country consists of a series of islands, and the U.K. is looked upon as an island as well. My dream is tantamount to wake up one morning, and I can’t ever escape from Japan.